Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie

Monday, January 29, 2018

Monday Quickie

Of course there isn't much to talk about - it's the 2017-2018 MLB Offseason but I did want to note something about the age stuff I talked about Friday. I noted that being old doesn't mean being bad but I didn't exactly look for examples to prove that. Well looking at 2012, 2013 and 2014* I found examples that would be both heartening and discouraging.

The oldest team, and the most discouraging one, during that stretch is easily the Phillies. They went from 102 game winning champs in 2011 to .500 in 2012 to 73 wins in 2013 and saddled with and old squad.  They'd have to sell-off beginning at this point and if things go well they will be back playing competitive baseball in 2019.

The second oldest team was the SF Giants. They would win 94 games in 2012 - then only get to 88 once since then. But they were able to stay competitive through 2016 and in 2014 a rather average season ended with a World Series Championship. They are making one more go at it now. We'll see if it's ill-fated or enough to put the Giants back in contention for a couple years.

Another old team was the Dodgers. The Dodgers would go on to win more games than anyone over the course of the next few seasons. The Dodgers would also spend a ton of money. Those things are related. Money can solve a lot of problems.

A surprise team to show up among the oldies was the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers. They didn't really do much to get there - just added a couple 30 year olds and watched the rest of the team age in place.  They would, like the Phillies, immediately collapse into a fodder team. But by 2017 they were able to turn things around and they should be a WC / Division contender in 2018.

These four teams kind of capture what can happen to the Nats over the next few years.

They can become non-competitive and decide to trade it all away with hopes of a quick rebuild. After getting old in 2014 the Brewers gave it half a year then packed it in. They would trade Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez, John Broxton, Gerardo Parra, Neal Cotts, Frankie Rodriguez, Adam Lind, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis away between the middle of the 2015 season and the start of the 2016 season** 

They can become non-competitive but try to hold on and end up with a mess to dig out of. The Phillies got old actually way back in 2008 and would dominate the division through 2011. But the '08 team was deceptive. The team was grouped tightly around 30 and the key guys were still on the 20s side, if just. The 2011 was truly old with the best players being early 30s at least***. Still old got them success and they wouldn't begin trading until after 2014 was over. By then it was too late. The returns were small and the team couldn't quickly fix the problems they now faced.

They can stay competitive and hope that by staying in the race they can get lucky one year. The Giants did this but the key was the best players were still young even if the team wasn't. Posey, Bumgarner, Belt, Crawford, Sandoval. They were able to just keep putting older pieces around that core, win in the high 80s, and get in the playoffs two more times.

They can just throw money at the situation to stay competitive, keeping your best and bringing in enough expensive pieces to work around the young guys that actually develop. The Dodgers didn't keep everyone (Greinke) but they kept Kershaw, Jansen, Justin Turner when they lucked into his Daniel Murphy esque improvement. They signed a million arms to work around Kershaw, Ryu, Maeda, Hill most recently, and paid money into the amateur free agent market for guys like Puig. They still needed a couple young bats to come through, but they did.

I don't think the Nats are quite at Phillies 2011 level yet so I don't think they have to sell BUT I think if they don't get an injection of youth this year (I'm looking at you Robles. Also Soto, MAT, Turner, Difo any damn pitcher) it would be time for a serious talk after 2018 because they'd be at the fork in the road and have these four paths ahead.

*Can't really look much beyond because I wanted to catch long term trends if any 

** What did they get for all those deals? Mostly relief arms and 4th OFs. However they did pick up a couple mid-rotation arms (Anderson and Davies - currently posing as top of the rotation guys until the Brewers bother to pick a real one up) and a good enough catcher (Jorge Castillo's Manny Pineapple).  Arguably their biggest pick-up would come in a 2016 trade getting Travis Shaw for Tyler Thornburg. Thornburg is good and cheap relief arm but Shaw blossomed back into a starting 3B with pop. 

***What are the Nats? Somewhere in between. Key bats are mix of young and old. Key pitchers are mostly older but not quite the 2011 Phillies age yet.


DezoPenguin said...

Interesting write-up. (As a side note, what I find intriguing about the Brewers is that of the guys they sold off, just three years later only Segura is actually good with Gomez and Parra still around in MLB but not particularly productive. They did an excellent job of valuing who they got rid of and who they kept.)

Obviously, I think we all want the Nationals to take the Dodgers' route, since we want our team to contend for the division and the WS every single year. But that depends on the Lerners' willingness to spend money (which they have shown) and as you note the ability to keep infusing the lineup with young talent. If Taylor's development into a superstar defender with just-under-leage-average-bat is real, it allows the replacement of aged-off-the-roster Werth with Eaton. If Robles and/or Soto pan out, that means freeing up money that can be used to address the pitching staff, catcher, or the Murphy/Zim issue.

And then, of course, there's the Bryce Harper-shaped elephant in the room. He's not going to come cheap, if he comes back to the Nats at all, but he's still stupidly young. He'd have to be paid like a veteran, but locking him up would because of his youth provide that young talent at one position. (Strasburg deciding that he really does like Washington and not opting out would be a nice added bonus, speaking of young-but-expensive talent.)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of olds, it doesn’t seem as though Jayson Werth is drawing even a scintilla of interest from anyone. The only somewhat recent news item is a quote from him saying that he has “a few good years” left in him. He might be the only person on earth who actually believes this though.

Josh Higham said...

I mean, Werth is a paragon of health and physical performance, for his age. I can only dream of being so slim, strong, and fleet of foot as I approach my 40s. It's only compared to other major leaguers that he's a statue in left field who can't catch up to fastballs or pick up on breaking balls.

Ryan DC said...

Your point about pitching is well-taken, Harper. The Nats haven't successfully developed a starter since they drafted Strasburg. The Nats, despite their staff being generally a strength over the past several years, have done a poor job of turning pitching prospects into pitchers.

Ray and Peacock didn't get good until after they were traded (multiple times), Milone was traded and also bad, Giolito and Lopez were traded after failing to develop, A.J. Cole looks to be replacement-level, and those are just the guys they drafted. (Plus Karns: possibly good but only after being traded multiple times; Taylor Jordan: garbage; Pivetta: traded and bad; Treinen: converted to uneven reliever and traded; Rivero: good reliever but traded; Solis: mediocre reliever; Jake Johansen: released). What are the success stories here? They traded for Roark like 7 years ago and he turned out to be good, and they traded for Ross and he might be good but can't stay healthy. That's about it.

Rizzo has generally done a good job, but there is something rotten in this organization's pitching development process, even taking into account TINSTAAPP. If Fedde and Voth continue to stagnate, the front office needs to take drastic measures to figure out what is going wrong.

blovy8 said...

Jordan Zimmermann was a lot better than his pedigree when he was here.

blovy8 said...

They also draft riskier pitchers who need surgery or even more recently attitude adjustments to get more talent in their low draft slots. When it works you get a front line guy, if not, you hope you can trade him.

KW said...

I've always thought the model of how to keep a team playoff-relevant for a long time was the Braves of the '90s-'00s. People quickly counter that they won "only" one WS during that period, but that's one more than the Nats have. The Yanks kept retooling during that time as well, but they did it by spending a lot more money.

Anyway, the Braves hung onto only four players for most of that run, and all are now Hall of Famers--Chipper, Smoltz, Maddux, and Glavine. They even let the three pitchers walk at the end; Jones was the only one who stayed the whole time. They didn't extend guys for partially sentimental reasons, like the Nats sorta did with Ryan Zimmerman. In fact, the Nats have gotten very lucky in this respect that they got turned down by guys like Jordan Zimmermann, Desmond, and Ramos. None of those extensions would have worked out well. Gio likely will be gone after 2018, and Bryce might be as well. If so, Stras and Zim will be the only players left from the first playoff team in 2012. Only Rendon, Zim, Stras, and Roark would remain from 2014.

The moral of the story is that change is good, provided that change keeps moving you in an upgraded and younger direction. The Turner/Ross trade was made with the future in mind; its verdict is still in the the air until Ross can stay healthy. The Eaton trade was made with the future in mind, with a guy signed for five years. Again, an injury has left the jury still out on that one.

Harper said...

Anon @ 8:43 - random guess would be Werth has had some AL DH interest but he wants at least a 2 year deal to play OF. I'm guessing that's not coming and by the end of Feb he's on a one year deal in like Oakland or something.

Ryan - let's be fairer. Ray/Peacock/Karns - all developed well after Nats dealt so yeah, you'd give credit to the later teams. On the flipside this is sort of a Roark type situation so the Nats do get credit for him.

Milone wasn't bad - he was rotation filler for a few years which is worth something. I'd take his career for Cole right now.

Giolito was traded after failing to develop into a #1 type but instead looking like a back of the rotation guy (personally I think he'll end up a solid #2), Lopez was traded because the Nats DID develop him into a back of the rotation type. That's an important distinction.

You know... I'm going to do a post on this maybe. I think I need more digging. The Nats seem to have an issue developing these guys but how many elite pitchers are there? A dozen? 20? With 30 teams trying every year to come up with them? It's hard.

blovy8 - I think the drafting is some of it.

KW - they did eventually walk at the end but the pitchers were 37 (Glavine), 38 (Maddux) and 42! (Smoltz) when they did. So they effectively were kept on for as long as possible.

I would say this - the Braves only felt the need to hang onto special talent. All the guys they kept were HoF level. They didn't worry as much about good to very good talent. The Kleskos, the Millwoods. But they spent to replace them with guys they did like. Their payroll didn't drop below 7th until the early 00s and was often Top 3-4.

Based on that you keep Max, Stras, and Bryce (Turner is too far down the road to evaluate yet). Rendon is an interesting case - not unlike David Justice, who the Braves let walk. Justice was capable of great seasons but didn't put them up consistently like Chipper. So they let him walk. He immediately had his best year - MVP level and then had a decent but not great end to his career. Zimmerman was similar too. He had a couple close to great years in 2009/2010 then a just good one in 2011. Nats gambled and hoped he was more 09/10 then 11 but they lost that gamble. Maybe because of health but they lost. Under these rules if Rendon puts up an '18 like '17 you keep him. If he drifts back down you let him go. Of course this is under the idea that the Nats are going to spend to replace him in some way - and have a Top 3 type payroll.

I'll note here that the ZNN deal made sense at the time. He was as good as Strasburg as far as results so at least a borderline case for keeping even under those strict guidelines. He's just been felled by injury. The Desmond contract though - that seems like a reach.

KW said...

The Braves actually traded Justice in a major retooling move, sending him to the Indians along with Grissom in exchange for Lofton and Alan Embree. Lofton was a bit younger and a bit cheaper, and Justice had missed most of the '96 season, but that trade didn't work out well for the Braves. Around the same time, they also traded Jermaine Dye for Michael Tucker, another "oops," although it took Dye a few years to figure things out.

Yeah, if the Nats are following the Brave model, they'll keep Max, Stras, and Bryce and be willing to shuffle everyone else. If Bryce leaves, is Rendon good enough to warrant the cost to be paid as a cornerstone? I think you're right on the money in comparing his situation to Zim's. If Rendon continues an upward progression in '18 & '19, he's probably worth it. Age will start to be an issue with him as well, though, as he would turn 31 during the first season on an extended contract. Maybe Turner or Robles is starting to look more like a cornerstone option by then. Who knows?

PotomacFan said...

FWIW: Milwaukee signed Matt Albers to a two-year contract. We might see him in the playoffs. Milwaukee is putting together a very solid team.

Josh Higham said...

@PotomacFan - a very solid team as long as its starting pitchers all become quite a bit better before the season starts.

I'm very interested to see what they do in the next couple of weeks. Signing Darvish and trading some outfield depth for a #3 type starter makes them extremely formidable. For now I still like the Cardinals, Cubs, Diamondbacks to be better, and I don't know that the Brewers are much better than the Giants, Mets, and Rockies.

blovy8 said...

PF, I agree. I know shoulder injuries are tough, but if Jimmy Nelson can come back at any point in 2018, Milwaukee has a good shot at the playoffs. He stuck it to us last year pretty good. Yelich and Cain going to help them a lot.